As part of GamesOnDeck's regular Mobile Q&A column, we spoke with Floodgate General Manager Matthew Bellows about the company's relationship with Sony BMG, its plans for Mo-Pets' community, and more.
GamesOnDeck: First off, can you give me a little background on Floodgate, and the genesis of Mo-Pets? Why make a mobile pet sim?
Matthew Bellows: Originally we wanted to make a game where the in-game action would mirror the player's life, and so to us at least, a pet was the most natural thing to follow the player around during the day. Maybe we thought that way because several of us at Floodgate are... shall we say... close to our pets? One producer grows organic catnip and hand-dries it for other cats in the office. One engineer uses a photo of a recently deceased pet as a texture for all his 3D experiments. So there was a good emotional foundation for the team to make a mobile pet game. We see the mobile phone as a kind of a pet itself, too.
GOD: What does the co-Publishing agreement with Sony BMG bring to the table?
MB: Well, Sony BMG is one of the largest publishers and distributors of mobile content in the world. They have great relationships with all the carriers because they've been partnering for ringtones and screensavers for years. The games team at Sony BMG is amazing, too. Very passionate about bringing great original titles to mobile. They've been excellent to work with and have come up with some great ideas. So they've done a great deal to make Mo-Pets what it is.
GOD: Can you elaborate on Mo-Pets' competitive networked elements? How do the regional competitions function? GPS, or cell tower locations?
MB: One of the areas you can visit with your pet is the Talent Show. At the Talent Show, you try to get your pet to do her four best tricks, while another person's Mo-Pet does theirs. Depending on how rested, happy and skilled your pet is, they'll either pull off a beauty or mess the trick up. We had fond memories of Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets Show, so we added two judges (Casey and Andy) to make wisecracks throughout the competition. Anyway, the first thing that you do when you start the Talent Show is choose which region you want to compete in -- locally, regionally or nationally. We do the opponent matching by asking for zip codes, not through any LBS technology. Although this and other aspects of the game were originally designed for LBS functionality, there just isn't a big enough install base of handsets out there yet. Hopefully we can do a sequel to Mo-Pets that will use LBS for some of the fun stuff we had to cut out.
GOD: Judging by your recent work, it would seem that Floodgate loves multiplayer. Is this a coincidence, or is it a reflection of Floodgate's mobile design ideals?
MB: It's not a coincidence. The phone as a games platform is hampered in so many ways, but it has a couple of features that put it leagues ahead of other portable video game systems. One of those features is its connectivity to a data network. We've worked really hard over the last 18 months to understand what connectivity can do for gameplay. We're trying different design and technology approaches for different game genres. And we haven't found the magic solution, but we've learned a lot and we've built a great basis to work from. Just like in the PC or console worlds, multiplayer game design is a real challenge, but when you get it right, the play experience is amazing. We're going to keep trying to get it right.
GOD: Should all mobile games include some type of network or community elements?
MB: No. There are successful video games on other platforms that could be multiplayer but aren't. Some of the best mobile games and the best web games don't have any networked elements. Our next game won't have any, except for the Sprint builds, which use the Game Lobby system. But for games that want to establish a deeper connection with a player, or want to become part of a player's life, not just an escape from it, community elements are important to consider. And developers who want to make the most of the mobile platform in the long run will have to understand the networking elements at some point. We decided to start 18 months ago.
GOD: Are there any "persistent world" network elements like perhaps "kennel clubs" or puppy "experience points" or is it closer to competitive leaderboards?
MB: A big part of Mo-Pets is the things you do with your kitten, ferret, monkey or dog to teach them tricks. There are mini-games you play where your pet learns both generic, cross-species tricks, and unique tricks. So there is persistence in the skill levels you build up in each trick. There is also an obedience-meter that affects how likely your little friend is to take a dump instead of doing a trick. That persists from game to game. By completing certain minigames well, you can earn Treats with which to reward your pet, and these have persistence. And your Talent Show rating persists from game to game. If your pet loses a bunch of Talent Shows while you are off-line, however, your Talent Show rank won't persist. It will degrade.
MB: That's going to depend on the various carriers' billing infrastructures available. We're exploring all the different approaches for billing on Mo-Pets.
GOD: Mo-Pets.com has been set up as a community-centric site, it seems. Can you share your community plans for the game, in the short or long term?
MB: At the basic level, we created the website to gather feedback on the game and to answer peoples' questions. There are all kinds of community features on the site, and we hope people enjoy them. We have a bunch of ideas for ways to take it, but we want to see what organically develops before imposing any preconceived ideas.
Matthew Bellows is the GM of mobile game studio Floodgate Entertainment. Before joining Floodgate, he was the co-founder and publisher of Wireless Gaming Review.
[This mobile Q&A was produced in association with Modojo.com.]